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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

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  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Claris Healthcare Responds

After last week’s unfortunate review of the Claris tablet by a magazine called FastCompany, I got in touch with Claris Healthcare. One of Claris’ people said they don’t have any control over a journalist’s choice of headings, but she was dismayed by the “firestorm” that reviewer had created. It seemed fair to offer Claris a chance to say something on their own behalf, so here is their statement from Kara Wood:

Simple is Smart

There has been quite a bit of discussion about a recent article titled ‘A Tablet So Simple, Even An Old Person Can Use It’. Claris Healthcare, the company that makes Claris Companion – the subject of the article, appreciates the opportunity to offer our perspective.


Kara Wood, Claris Healthcare

There are a lot of older seniors that enjoy keeping pace with today’s rapidly changing technology. But there’s also a portion of the population (independent of age) that isn’t interested, or because of a physical disability, isn’t able to benefit from being online. We developed Claris Companion to help anyone connect with friends, family and caregivers by removing the barriers imposed by modern computer design.

The latest tablet is great if you want to learn all about the pages of icons, settings, menus and options.  But what if you aren’t that interested?  As my 92-year-old mother would put it, “I never had to enter a user name and password to answer the phone, or launch a web browser and enter a URL to read a letter”.

She’s far from alone. Yes, seniors are the fastest growing population of Internet users (see Sparkbeat 2012/07/03) – not to mention the fastest growing segment of the population, period – but there are a significant portion who simply don’t want to climb the learning curve to get the benefits of the Internet, or due to disease like arthritis or Parkinson’s, have trouble with devices that were specifically designed for a different demographic of users.

So our design challenge was to make a device that can engage anyone in online communications – sharing of email, text messaging and photos with family in a way that most others take for granted. And there is a much larger issue at play here. Access to the Internet is not just about photos and email; but for our aging population, it is increasingly critical to their care and wellbeing. That’s because our healthcare system simply cannot withstand the wave of aging boomers that is coming. We will no longer be able to provide prolonged care for older seniors in hospital or extended care facilities –  increasingly people will have to age at home. So effective delivery of self-care assistance and monitoring at home will be critical to successful aging-in-place.

The answer is to be sure that the immediate benefits outweigh the effort required to use the technology. The benefits side of this equation is easy –most people (including older seniors) are very happy to engage with sharing photos, email and text messages with family – and even adopting personalized self-care assistance if and when they want.

It’s the other side of the equation that is challenging – how to design something that doesn’t require any training at all to use. This is not about ‘dumbing down’ computers to make them ‘so simple even old people can use them’. This is about designing something where the benefits are much greater than the effort required to use it. That’s what we believe we have achieved with Claris Companion.

Apparently, we have found that balance for my mother. She now gets photos sent to her from everyone in the family and dashes off emails to us too. But what is even more important to me is that she has now decided to turn on the medication reminders and I get a notification each day confirming that everything is okay.

In spite of the recent issue, we at Claris Healthcare hope that by creating this product we’ll be able to open doors to people who are currently unable to access the benefits of technology.
Lynne again: I read a statistic recently that seniors who are online are 20-28% less likely to be diagnosed as depressed. Also, aging in place is the gold standard – what we all want. If anybody can develop a product that allows seamless web access to people who are otherwise unable to access the Internet, I think that’s a product worth supporting. It’s too bad that a magazine, FastCompany, virtually slandered Claris. However, I hope this post will help clear up who was at fault here. Kara Wood will be available to respond to your comments. What a lively and vibrant discussion! I am grateful to all of you for your involvement and passion. 
Leave a comment


  1. I appreciate the forum for Kara to receive ‘equal time’ (I realize we’re not talking about a monthly circulation that parallels ‘Fast Company’ – but your followers are reliable and talk a lot to so there’s hope). And I love the new pictures of you too..

    • Mimi, thanks. I wanted to be fair. It would be nice if readers would publicize this tiny, if earnest, effort at setting the record straight. Thanks for coming by.

  2. Being a fifty something woman and someone living with a disability, I represent thousands of people who I post to each day about ways to live a better quality of life. I am glad I will be able to talk about this new product. Thank you Lynne for sharing this.

    • My pleasure, Cathy. I think this might be the needed link between offline and on for many people. Do help me get the word out to them, and thanks.

  3. The response makes perfect sense. Too bad the ad wasn’t this earnest in explaining the benefits. It’s always retrospect that makes the errors in approach abundantly clear. They likely fired that ad designer and have someone else to design a new ad for them, but in the mean time, I’m sure they have lost a lot of potential clients in this blunder. It’s not the product that was a bad concept. It was the insulting marketing that got them into trouble. If they continue to run the same ad, they are really not getting it!

    • Tamara, Claris didn’t hire FastCompany. FastCompany isn’t a marketing company, it’s a magazine like Consumer Reports – they did a review of the Claris product. FastCompany is the party that caused the bad impression. Claris had nothing to do with it. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clearer. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Lynne, I appreciate your attempts to present both sides of the story. Kara’s response makes perfect sense. It is unfortunate that the negative spin has had such extensive coverage. This certainly shows the power of headlines and words in shaping opinions–there’s always more to the story. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and for offering a platform to clarify.

    • Hi Kathy, the discussion is good, because it helps us see ageism in real time. However, Claris is the innocent party getting slandered by FastCompany, which doesn’t seem right. Hopefully this will help clear things up. PS happy belated birthday, my friend!

  5. I have a fundamental disagreement with the idea that taking charge of one’s own health at any age requires a device like the Claris tablet. For example:

    ***Taking prescribed meds every day is extremely easy to do by using one of those cheap plastic gizmos divided into days of the week with subdivisions for times of the day. I keep mine in the bathroom by the sink.
    ***Making and keeping doctors’ appointments is not high-tech business. I write mine on a calendar.
    ***For a Type 2 diabetic, measuring blood glucose is simple and quick, but—when the mother in the video got a message about measuring her blood glucose–she touched “Show Me” on the screen. Huh? She’s forgotten how to put the test strip into the glucose meter since the last time? Maybe she needs to look at the simple written directions and figure that came with the meter.

    Finally, the main concern about the projected “wave of aging boomers” has to do with Alzheimer’s disease because there is still no definitive way to prevent it, diagnose it, or treat it. The Claris tablet may possibly help family to check in but only during the early stages.

    • I have one of those cheap plastic things with my pills in them. It’s next to my sink. Last night I forgot to take them. Too bad it coudn’t send me a message!

      I don’t think Claris is saying an electronic device is required, just that it’s a nice tool to make self-care a little more organized and easier. It’s too bad FastCompany didn’t consult with Claris first before trashing their customers. It was obvious to me when reading the FastCompany review that it was written by your basic youngish, arrogant techie types. They’re great with technology, but tend to be not so good with people. I worked with techies for 20 years and have a deep respect for their skills and amazement that they see the world and people so differently than I do. Good on you, Lynne, and your other readers for pointing out that not all new technology is going to be used by younger people with mad computer skills and good eyes!

    • I would be interested to know what is meant here by ‘old’ where people are feeling insulted by the terminology. Is that when you turn 60 or 90? Madeleine mentions how easy it is to follow taking medications by using the blister packs. My 86 year old mother recently commented to me how those blister packs are a sign of her independence. No – not remembering to take them, but putting the tablets in the blisters in the first place. She claims most of her friends (those not in a care facility) use the services of the local pharmacist (chemist / druggist) to do that on a weekly basis. She is proud that she is still able to do it herself.
      My mother is still writing history books, by the way, so is intellectually fully functional. However, there has been gradual loss of her physical capabilities over the past 5 – 10 years. There is no doubt that there are some things that older people find more difficult.

      • Elizabeth, you raise good points. Personally, I wonder when we’re going to stop using OLD as a negative. It means something, it’s like a code word for certain attributes, but those attributes are actually not age-related. Here’s one: old can mean uninvolved, out-of-it. That’s certainly not limited to a certain age. Anyway, that’s my wish, that we can start using more accurate words (e.g. “her vision is weak,” or “he can’t climb stairs so needs to take the elevator”) and stop our unconscious ageism. Thanks for commenting.

        • Good point!
          My 86 years young mother refuses to join the local ‘senior citizens’ club as she does not think of herself as senior. Instead she belongs to the local history society, the show society, church groups and volunteer groups for various charities. It is definitely a perception thing.

  6. I haven’t read the original article on FastCompany, but I’ll go look for it. It’s usually one of my favorite websites, so it’s a shame that the article had a negative spin. I do like your perspective here and giving Claris a chance to give their side. It’s a real issue getting everyone to use technology. Regardless of age. It’s how communication happens now and everyone needs to be using it. Whatever it takes to do it, is what society needs.

    Downton Abbey is one of my favorite shows and I see so many similarities between then and now. We are just 100 years in the future, but the hesitance to use new technology is the same then and now. Some people were wary of using electricity, phones and driving cars. But we can look back now and see that anyone who thought they could avoid them was being naive. Now it’s the Internet, solar power, gene mapping and everything that’s coming that most of us cannot even imagine. Except for some 5 year old who’s dreaming up the next big thing in 15 years.

    • Lisa, thanks for your support. I don’t sense any malice in the folks at FastCompany, at all, just maybe oblivion. Clendaniel doesn’t, apparently, feel the issue has merit, which makes him look kind of obtuse (it’s a day for ob-words). I think it’s fantastic to have lived thru the time spanning carbon paper/whiteout (speaking for myself) up to what we have today. For the most part I’m thrilled, and I think Claris is on to something. Now if I could just get my Android calendar for Google to sync back to my laptop!

  7. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  July 6, 2013

    I never had any problem with the product itself. But, dammit, words do matter! It’s unfortunate that Claris had to be associated with a writer who had no clue. And, honestly, the Fast Company editor’s response was equally clueless and stupid. That’s what I responded to on their comment section. What a shame that a lot of new writers or writers in other fields, just don’t get what rhetoric is all about – that word choice frames whatever follows. And if the wrong words are used in the Headline, then the message is gone forever. Poor Claris. I’m glad, though, that they are thinking about the special needs of lots of people. That’s what good technology should be about – usability reigns supreme, not gadgetry.

  8. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  July 6, 2013

    By the way, she got me interested in the Claris Companion.

    • Me too, for my mom! But the writer of the article Zak Stone, was unhappy with the title assigned by the editor. He felt it was in “poor taste.” But I didn’t say that because I didn’t want Zak to get in trouble. A difficult call.

      • Snoring Dog Studio

         /  July 6, 2013

        Shame on the editor. Wow. He or she is paid far too much for what he or she offers.

  9. I agree with one of the earlier commenters that no computer technology for self-help is going to help us when our memory fails..and it will. I think of my partner’s 91 yr. old mother who fell on the floor and laid there for 2 days because she couldn’t get up to get to the phone. No cell phone on the counter will help you. And who wants to wear a cell phone at home all the time or will have the fortune / luxury /emergency alert system tied to paramedic/nurse response? Will all of us afford this?

    There are days I get tired of dealing with IDs and passwords for all the tools I use for personal purposes and for work.

    But nothing with a simplifed tablet design.

    I would like to hear directly from Fast Company for the way how it was advertised..

  10. Once again, Lynne, looks like you are on the front line of issues us Gen Fabbers are facing. I am regrouping at my family’s cabin and looking forward to catching back up with your posts.


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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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